12 May

These Girls Can Run

This Girl Can advert

Women’s sport has been given a makeover this year by Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, which is trying to encourage more women to get active.

The huge push on television, social media and billboards since January has been striking for how different it looks to typical female representations in the media. These are real women - unashamed and un-airbrushed. The sweat, sag and cellulite are all proudly on display.

Whether it achieves its goal of narrowing the gap between the genders in sports participation remains to be seen. But it definitely hit a note with the public and prompted debate in the national and international media over female participation in sport.

In running, the issue is less acute and - in many ways - our sport is something of a trailblazer for female participants. In Sport England’s own Active People survey, the number of women runners has risen consistently year on year.

The annual research started in 2005/2006 when there were 476,300 women running for 30 minutes once a week, every week. By 2013/14, that number had risen to 886,900. In numerical terms there was a similar rise amongst male runners to nearly 1.2m, which was a healthy increase of 55%. But even that impressive figure is dwarfed by the 86% rise in female running.

As an example of the positive discrimination, there are over 300 women-only running events that take place in the UK every year. A major part of that is the enormously successful Race for Life series hosted by Cancer Research UK. The 5k events are nothing short of a phenomenon, with female runners raising over £500m since it launched in 1994.

Even at the elite level of the sport, running and athletics has an admirable level of equality. The achievements of the likes of Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe and Jessica Ennis are lauded just as much as those of Mo Farah, Linford Christie and Greg Rutherford. Other sports lag way behind running in this sense.

Just think back to last year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards when Jo Pavey finished third behind Lewis Hamilton and Rory McIlroy. It is almost impossible to imagine a female athlete like Pavey sharing the centre stage with a female racing driver and female golfer now or anytime soon.

Yet, running is far from perfect in terms of equality. The number of male participants still outweighs the number of females by over 300,000.

There are also a distinct lack of female coaches at any level of the sport. Progress is minimal in that particular area. But there is plenty for other sports to learn from running. It is a sport both genders enjoy and do together.

Sport as a whole has a long way to go before true gender equality is achieved. But when it does, running will most likely be at the forefont.